‘Shoplifters’ is a deeply moving look at the meaning of family

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In Shoplifters, family isn’t something you’re necessarily born with – it’s something you build. Winner of the top prize at the most recent Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is a film with a bottomless amount of compassion, one that very well may be one of the most emotional movie-going experiences of the year.

In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest, we’re introduced to a poverty-stricken Japanese family who barely make ends meet by shoplifting. When Osamu and his son Shota come across Yuri, a malnourished little girl left alone in the freezing cold, they decide to add her to their makeshift family, which also consists of Osamu’s partner Nobuyo, adult daughter Aki, and Grandma Hatsue. From the moment Yuri enters the tight quarters of the clan’s home, things immediately feel lit up with love. She’s a child who lacks parental affection, and there’s something so moving about seeing strangers pick up slack with so much ease. It’s technically kidnapping – this is a point that’s clear from the beginning – but ever the expert of his craft, Kore-eda has us wrapped around his finger from the start. We don’t much question the morality of these actions, because the glow of this families’ kindness immediately hits us in a way that owns us from the very first frame, up until the heartbreaking last.

One of the strongest decisions Kore-eda makes is to hold his cards closely to his chest. We of course know that this is an unconventional family, but how unconventional, and how they came to be, is something that’s revealed slowly and with the upmost skill. Dramatic tension abounds, and the viewer is left to piece together how their emotions fit in with some undeniably troubling facts.

What defines a family? And is the family we choose more powerful than the one linked by blood? Kore-eda explores these ruminations with a clear-eyed delicacy and a certain wholesomeness that makes it equal parts thought-provoking and moving. A balancing act that aims to both fill you up and break you down, Shoplifters is a devastating embrace, one that must be felt to be believed.

Shoplifters opens at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater Miami on December 14. For more info, click here.

Lauren Cohen

Lauren Cohen is Miami Film Festival's Co-Director of Programming. She also runs the Festival’s membership level for young professionals, CineClub. Learn more about Lauren on Programmers.